If you're struggling with thoughts of suicide, PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Emotional Challenges of Supporting an Addict

For those of us supporting an addict, at any stage of their recovery, there is a whole host of challenges we experience, many of which we're not aware of at the time. We're overwhelmed by caring for our loved ones, trying to ensure their safety and well-being. We're trying to convince them they need help. We're trying to persuade them to enter treatment. We might be living with the addict in our lives, financially supporting them, and/or caring for them. The pressure we feel, the sense of obligation we feel, the guilt we feel around trying to make sure our own needs are met, are some of the many emotional difficulties we face. We experience deep sadness and fear, overwhelming concern for our loved ones who are suffering, and our own mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. We might get angry and frustrated with our loved ones when they refuse help. We blame them for the difficult things that are happening in their lives, and in ours. We might feel hurt and betrayed when they mistreat us. Our days are filled with disappointment the longer they go refusing help and falling short of our expectations. We can become impatient and intolerant when they continue to let us down, time and time again.

Our Own Recovery Process

Supporting an addict and helping them through their recovery means we have a recovery process of our own. We have to recover from all of the challenges and hardships we've had to contend with while supporting them. We have to come to terms with all of the traumatic experiences we faced and the losses we sustained in the process. We have to recover from their addictions in many of the same ways that they do. Some might consider joining a support group for the loved ones of addicts or see a therapist of our own. We may want to surround ourselves with support as we're recovering, the same way we encourage our loved ones too.

Our own recovery process

The Driving Force of Addiction

One thing that can help us profoundly as we're recovering and as we're continuing to support our loved ones, is remembering that it's the illness, not them, creating this hardship and turmoil in our lives. It's the “disease” that is causing them to speak unkindly and act irrationally. When they are volatile, hostile, and abusive, it's the illness creating this dysfunction within them. Addiction can take over a person's entire life and alter their psyche, behaviors, choices, and their entire way of thinking, just as mental illness can. In fact, many consider addiction to be a mental illness in its own right. When we're dependent on an addictive substance or behavior, it can change everything about us – our moods, our temperament, our thoughts and feelings, our judgment, our decision-making, our ability to rationalize and think clearly, our objectivity, our memory, even our ability to be honest and forthcoming.

Our Overwhelming Dependence

Very often our focus is narrow and limited and placed squarely on our addictions. We don't think of much else other than our drug of choice and how to obtain more of it. Getting high, and covering our tracks so we can continue to get high, is our main priority in life. Our lives revolve around our addictions. We create lifestyles to support our habits. Our routines prioritize making sure we get the fill of our drug of choice. We're dependent on it and feel as though we can't survive without it. We become attached to it mentally, emotionally and physically, with our dependence sometimes being so strong we physically can't quit our addiction without having severe withdrawal symptoms like tremors, seizures, vomiting, and physical pain. Our addictions literally make us sick. For many of us, professional treatment is the only way to help ourselves rid ourselves of our severe dependence. While we're still in the grips of our addiction, our drug of choice is often all we see and all we care about. We physically can't be without it, but we've also developed such a strong mental and emotional attachment that we feel we need it to cope, even just to live.

Everything Becomes Compromised

When we're in this place of dependence, neediness, and attachment, we often act impulsively, compulsively, irrationally and without sound judgment. We don't have control over our impulses. We say and do things we regret, many of which we can't remember the next day. We feel ashamed of ourselves for the things we've done to hurt others and ourselves. We lose consciousness when we use them, unable to piece together the events of the night before. Our judgment, our ability to make good decisions, our ability to think clearly are all impaired when we're under the influence. Our minds have been compromised, though, and all of these harmful effects can present themselves even when we're not inebriated. While we can't excuse our behaviors and justify them because of our addictions, and while we must take responsibility for our actions, we have to remember that it's the illness driving everything we do. It's the catalyst behind the destructiveness in our lives. It's our addictions, not our true authentic selves, that are wreaking havoc, destroying relationships, causing harm and endangering us and our loved ones.

Choosing Compassion

Sometimes being able to see things from this perspective helps us to understand that when addiction has taken over a person's life, everything is compromised, from their mental and physical health to their emotions, to the relationships they hold dear. Everything gets sacrificed. When we're supporting a loved one struggling with addiction, it can help us to put ourselves in their shoes as much as we possibly can. We can try to see things from their point of view. We can try to imagine what source of pain and trauma they're still reeling from that is fueling their addiction. We can choose to have compassion for their suffering and try to be patient with them as we can while they make their way through their recovery. There will be forward to progress at times, and then they might regress. They might be gathering great momentum and then backtrack on their goals. All of this is part of the process, and we want to remember that the recovery process is a lifelong healing journey. Some people are contending with their addictions, in one way or another, for the rest of their lives. The more patient we can be, the more we can support the addict in our lives without feeling too hurt, stressed and overwhelmed by it all.

Periods of Remission

Our loved one might have periods of time where they're doing well, even managing to stay sober successfully. Some people consider themselves to be in remission, where their addiction is not active, and they are not actively using it at the time. They might be diligent with their recovery work, taking each goal and intention seriously, taking full advantage of the support they're receiving, from us, from their sponsors and therapists, from their treatment programs. They might be working enthusiastically at their recovery programs, working to rebuild their relationships and make amends. They might be conscientiously changing their habits, altering their routines and creating lifestyles for themselves that will support and reinforce their sobriety. Their lives might begin to revolve around their healing and well-being rather than their addictions, sometimes for the first time. We're excited and relieved to see them doing so well. We feel like the worst is over, and the rest of their lives, and ours can be what we envisioned them to be – happy, fulfilling, stable and peaceful. We're so happy they can finally get back to their former lives, follow their passions and their purpose, and find success. We're relieved that we can now get back to our lives too.

Responding to their Relapse

Many of us live in constant fear that our loved will relapse, always concerned at the slightest hint of regression. If they appear stressed out, anxious or unhappy, we might try to intervene and recommend treatment right away as a preventive measure. They might be doing so well that our fears are assuaged, and we can finally breathe and relax, knowing they're going to be fine. When our loved one does relapse, as is often the case, we can be filled with debilitating sadness, disappointment, and frustration. We can fall into our own episodes of depression. We might battle crippling anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. We might even experience suicidal thoughts, feeling as though we can't live like this anymore. We feel fed up and frustrated. We might tell our loved ones we can no longer support them, emotionally, financially or otherwise. It might have become way too much for us to reasonably be able to handle.

Understanding Relapse

When this happens, we can try to remember that relapse is a part of the recovery process. It's common and also understandable. Addicts may need a considerable amount of time to practice living their new lives, to develop their new habits and lifestyles, to continue to shed their toxic ways of being and living. They might still need to do a great deal of inner healing work, soul-searching, and self-examination. They might need more time to determine which relationships, behaviors and circumstances are triggering for them and pushing them to relapse. They might need to keep exploring the reasons behind why they're using, what pain they're trying to escape, what they're trying to self-medicate from. The issues that were fueling their addictions and causing their pain might still as of yet be unresolved, continuing to hurt them and drive them to their drug of choice. Relapse can be a painful time not only for the recovering addict but for everyone supporting them. We can all be filled with disappointment, frustration, and sadness. We can all feel disheartened, defeated, lost and broken. As their loved ones, we might feel personally betrayed. How could they do this to us, when we've been working so hard to support them when we've been there for them consistently and tirelessly? We can see the relapse as a personal affront, a slap in the face. We can feel unappreciated and taken for granted. We can wrongly assume that if they loved us enough, they'd be able to stay sober for us. We believe that if they loved us, they would choose us, not their addiction.

Addiction Intercepts and Sabotages Our Intentions

We have to remember in this very difficult time that it's the illness creating these setbacks, not our loved ones' truest selves. It is their addictions, not their spirits, that is causing them to hurt themselves, and us in the process. When they choose their addiction over their relationships, families, partners, and close friends, it is the addiction driving them. They don't love us less because they're prioritizing their addiction. They're not intending to betray us or let us down. They don't mean to disappoint us. That is how addiction works; it dominates our thoughts, feelings, and actions eventually taking over our entire lives. It impairs our ability to think for ourselves, to make sound decisions, and to act in our best interest. It makes us self-destructive and self-sabotaging. It makes us work against ourselves living day after day with inner turmoil, confusion, and internal conflict, compromising our intentions. We can intend to do something, but our addiction intercepts our intention and sabotages it, driving us to do the opposite.

Encouraging Self-Inquiry

Rather than taking things personally, as so many of us feel compelled to do, we can support our loved ones' recovery by encouraging them to take a deeper look at their addictions

  • What is working in your recovery and what isn't?
  • What is triggering and/or tempting you to use? (i.e. a certain relationship, your workplace or home environment, a specific memory or event, etc.)
  • What habits and behavioral patterns are contributing to your relapse?
  • What pain and trauma are you self-medicating from, numbing yourself to, trying to escape, avoid and distract yourself from?
  • What unresolved issues have you yet to address?
  • What lingering problems still need your attention?
  • What alternative healing methods can you try to supplement your recovery, for example, energy healing, meditation, or different kinds of therapy?
  • Can we try family, couples or group therapy together?
  • What do you need from me to support you in your recovery? What can I do differently? What things can I continue to do?
Prioritizing our needs

Prioritizing Our Needs

Our loved ones' addictions are not our responsibility to heal. We can't put an end to them or even minimize the damage they cause. As much as we want to, we can't save our loved ones. We can't rescue them or extricate them from their addictive patterns. That work is theirs to do. Their recovery is their journey in life, not ours. Healing from their addictions is their responsibility. All we can do is support them to the best of our ability, however, we feel comfortable doing so. We have to determine what our needs are, how we feel comfortable helping, what things we will no longer be able to do, and what our boundaries will be. We might decide to create the boundary that we won't spend time with our loved one while they are using their drug of choice. We might decide that when they're inebriated, it is too stressful, painful or even dangerous for us to be around them, and we have to prioritize our own well-being and separate ourselves. We might decide that we can no longer financially support them and their drug habit. We might tell them that we can no longer house them and that they'll have to find somewhere else to live. Whatever boundaries we create for ourselves, we have to make sure our needs are being met. For quite some time, we've put our loved one first and prioritized their needs. Their addiction has taken over our lives as well as theirs. We often decide that to help them, and to help ourselves, we have to make significant changes, in our own lives, and within the relationship.

Patterns of Enabling

Very often we realize that the things we were doing to try and help our loved ones were actually forms of enabling. As much as we thought we were doing the right thing for them, we might have been contributing to their addictive patterns and unknowingly exacerbating them. Sometimes we knew we were enabling them because we felt we had no choice at the time. Bending to their demands was how we kept the peace in the home or in the relationship. Giving them what we wanted was how we appeased them. Sometimes it was for the sake of our own safety, for example, if they became abusive towards us if we tried to withhold their drug of choice from them. Their addictions became an integral part of the relationship, and for many of us, we're in codependent relationships fueled by addiction, especially if we too struggle with addiction ourselves.

Shedding the Guilt and Obligation

When we identify what our needs and boundaries are, we have to shed any guilt we feel that we're letting down our loved one, making things harder for them, or not showing them enough support. We have to shed the sense of obligation that makes us feel as though we have to do everything, be everything, solve everything, fix everything. We have to shed the obligation that makes us feel tied to our loved ones and attached to them, even when they're hurting us. Our own needs and our healing have to be our priority. We have to take our own recovery seriously. To help ourselves heal, both within our own lives and within the relationship, it is helpful to remind ourselves that it is our loved ones' addictions, not them, that have created this unwellness for all of us. With healing, though, we can all get to higher ground and create lives we're happy to live.

Discover your path. Discover your purpose. Discover your life! At WinGate Wilderness Therapy, our mission is to support you as you heal.

Contact us today!

(800) 560-1599

P.O. Box 347
Kanab, UT 84741

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WinGate Therapy

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